Walk a Mile, Tales of a Wandering Loon review

It’s funny how trails can lead to things on the internet. As a service user of Mental Health services I have found the Masked AMHP blog to be helpful in answering some of the questions or concerns I’ve had about my care, it’s also a useful insight into Mental Health provision in the UK and provides answers or thoughts into how legislation is applied. I recently discovered that the blog has a facebook group which I also followed. A member of the group recently shared that they’d had a book published detailing their diagnosis and subsequent treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (NB I will refer to it as BPD for the rest of this review). The book appealed for me for many reasons which I will detail later in this review, what also appealed to me was some of the profits go to the Shaw Mind Foundation. Its funny where a trail of things on the internet can lead.

Disclaimer:

3 months ago I was discharged from an inpatient psychiatric unit having had intensive treatment for an eating disorder/mental health crisis. I am by no means fully recovered, but things are improving. I struggled with memory and concentration for quite some time after ‘re-feeding’, at times crying with frustration as watching TV made no sense and I couldn’t take in simple items of text. As I started to eat more regularly concentration has slowly returned, I am now back in work and can manage my life a lot better. Anxiety and depression can unfortunately have an impact on memory and concentration, in such extremes that people can visit their GP thinking they may have dementia, but find a course of antidepressants or talking therapy can resolve their symptoms. It’s taken me months to pick up a book again and Chris Young’s book is the first one I’ve read. My recall of the content is probably nowhere in the region of a normal reviewer but I felt I wanted to feedback my thoughts on the book anyway. I hope the reader understands that there are probably more helpful reviews on amazon. 

I first came across the diagnosis of BPD when I was a young parent. I’d visited my GP experiencing difficulties with relationships, extreme mood swings, reckless behaviors. The GP sent me away with a referral for counselling and some print outs including descriptions of bipolar disorder, BPD, anxiety and depression. Looking back it seems a bit irresponsible to send someone away with so much information from such a short consultation. I managed to attend 1 session of the counselling, but failed to continue as I couldn’t cope with the anxiety of seeing the counselor, this was never followed up by the GP. I didn’t seek support for many years later having continued to cope alone with difficulties with my mental health over time, missing opportunities in life and having ongoing difficulties with relationships and generally being a bit of a disaster.

I came across the label of BPD again when I was studying for qualification in Awareness of Mental Health Conditions, it was around the time I had been placed under secondary mental health services and had received a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. I had read about DBT, which is a type of therapy often delivered in groups to people with BPD and had looked at some of the techniques when I first received therapy under primary care on a one to one basis. I had received CBT under primary mental health services which I hadn’t found helpful, but I found the techniques within DBT easier to apply and relate to. During my research for my qualification I came across some really negative posts online about people with BPD being high maintenance, manipulative, deceitful, bad parents/partners etc, these descriptions concerned me. When secondary care services did agree that I could have DBT therapy they gave me a written description of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder to read – having done my research I knew that this was another term for BPD. I asked they were giving me this when I’d already received a diagnosis of Aspergers, given to me by a team of people who’d spent hours assessing me. They didn’t seem to know and in my eyes it felt like they were only able to give me the therapy if they could stick a label on me which related to what they felt the therapy was commissioned for. The sense of horror that this label might be given to me filled me with anger and it was this part of Chris’s story which I related to – I’d been exposed to the prejudice of others in respect of this label which was where my horror came from.

Chris’s book aims to challenge the stigma which is given to BPD. You warm to him whilst reading the book, the humor draws you in and keeps you engaged. Often people who have a diagnosis of BPD have experienced past trauma, which Chris describes vividly in his book. Someone who has experienced trauma as a child deserves compassion and empathy, not disdain or maltreatment. By creating images of what we expect someone to be like with a particular label we are potentially writing off thousands of individuals who truly have something to offer. I often wonder how differently I would be treated if I had a BPD label rather an Autistic Spectrum label. A condition, whenever it is developed, deserves fair treatment and support. If someone breaks a leg you don’t turn round and say ‘sorry, you’ve not had that condition all your life, we can’t treat you’ and yet sadly I have heard stories to this effect in relation to BPD, particularly in relation to crisis care.

Chris’s book talks about how getting outdoors and walking has helped him, I concur with him that it can’t always help when you are in a full on crisis, but what it can do is to help nip smaller things in the bud or to retain more stable mental health in the in between times outside of a crisis. Without being able to get outdoors I am not sure how I would function. Getting out volunteering or walking is my way of communicating with people people, I can’t socialise in any other way.  I often repeat a similar mantra to Chris, reassuring myself that a storm cloud or emotion ‘will pass’ and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Chris’s detailing of ‘disassociation’ was interesting, it’s not something I’ve fully understood and it really impacts the highlight the impact it can have on a sufferers life, especially when they cannot predict when it will come and how long it will last for.

The book also tells the tale of an initiative Chris set up involving groups of people getting together to walk a mile in each others shoes – including carers, service users and professionals. It essentially involves setting up a walk and pairing different people to walk with each other to walk/talk and to listen to each other’s stories. I think this is an excellent idea, as a service user it’s often easy to think of professionals as invincible human beings and forget that they are individuals with their own struggles at well. As a professional it’s also easy to focus on someone’s diagnosis and symptoms rather than the individual behind the illness. Walking/Talking therapy is starting to become more common in the private sector and it would be interesting to see what impact it could have if used within the NHS. I’ve often come out of appointments wondering how differently it could have gone if we’d just been able to talk in the garden outside rather than some horrible clinical noisy room. I recently wrote a blog about my recovery journey from anorexia, I happened to share this on my personal social media and received two messages from people I know on a personal level in mental health services commenting that they found the information contained within enlightening and they would consider it in their future practice. It’s conversations like this which can be generated by events like Walk a Mile.

I’d encourage anyone interested in mental health and wellbeing, on a personal or professional level to give Chris’s book a read – Chris treats people without judgement and his attitude towards others is something we can all learn from. Thanks Chris.

You can purchase Chris’s book from Trigger Press here

 

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